Magazine article Sculpture

Anne Chu: Making Sense of Cultural Chaos

Magazine article Sculpture

Anne Chu: Making Sense of Cultural Chaos

Article excerpt

Anne Chu is a mid-career, New York-based sculptor and painter whose work reflects many years of familiarity with the city's art museums. Her parents came from China-her father was a mathematics professor at Columbia University- yet she does not identify closely with Chinese culture. Instead, her sculptures reflect a thorough knowledge of world art, much of it coming from Western sources, the result of years of gallery and museum going. Chu's highly informed involvement in art history has resulted in a singular vision. Her quietly glorious sculptures, which place a contemporary sensibility in genuine dialogue with the past, have an ad hoc, but never excessively informal, sense of the present.

Chu grew up in New York City. When she was in middle school, her family moved to Westchester County, north of the city. She graduated from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) in 1982 and received an MFA from Columbia University in 1985. She is perhaps not as well known in America as she should be, despite numerous awards, including a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant in 1997, a 1999 award from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Penny McCall Award in 2001, and a Guggenheim fellowship in 2010. Now working in a comfortably sized studio in Long Island City, Chu addresses her efforts toward a synthesis of painting and sculpture that blends a sense of physical impermanence with a powerful vision of art's potential. This melding of contingency and the long view gives her work its remarkable strength.

Both insights are evident in even comparatively simple works. Chu made both the fabric flowers and the ceramic vase in Flower Drawing No. 1 (2011). She has always favored a certain roughness of expression, but in accordance with a deep-seated feeling for expressive, even deliberate, beauty. As a result, her work becomes a synthesis of only seemingly oppositional elements. The flowers consist of similar shapes, but each one has been configured to look different from the others. Some of the brilliance of Chu's hand is evident: genuine and artificial at the same time, the flowers belong to the inspired artifice of craft and art.

The vase, on the other hand, evinces rawness: regular ridges define its construction, and the surface is rough, with sections pared down into a kind of relief. The construction looks rather like a bad piece of plastering, an effect that Chu obviously desired. We can even see the white of the clay in places. Flower Drawing No. 1 occupies a zone of multiple contradiction-genuine and fake, deliberately constructed and unconsciously inspired.

The glazing of the vase is more than decorative- it realizes an applied, perfectly compelling beauty. The greater part of the form is covered with shellfish orange, with patches of deep blue and an area of untreated white. One is reminded of the Romantic era's fascination with ruins and its preference for the rough over the finished. Chu, too, opts for the unfinished or slightly damaged. More recent work echoes this treatment of the vase. By mixing surfaces, allusions, and materials, Chu demonstrates a passion for a modified quotation of art history and calls on us to accept a mixed assortment of effects. Her vision changes, and is changed by, what she sees and has seen.

Lepus (2014), a wood, metal, and ceramic rabbit wearing a leather vest, is part of Chu's small menagerie of animals, including bears, horses, and rats. …

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